I try not to send two essays in the same day. I figure you suffer enough with one of them. But I make an exception today to mark the 40th anniversary of the day that converted me and changed my life forever.
On May 4, 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard shot and killed four unarmed college students and wounded 13 others on their own campus in Ohio. I’m unaware that in 40 years that anyone has explained the reasons for the shooting. A few days before, someone had burned down an ROTC building on the campus. As far as I know that was a crime of vandalism and property damage but not violence on any innocent person. There’s no evidence that any of the students shot were responsible for the crime. Even if they were all guilty of that crime, I am unaware of any state that imposes capital punishment without trial for vandalism.
On May 4, 1970, I was pretty much what my fellow Catholics used to call a “good Catholic,” someone who goes to church Sundays and holy days of obligation, abstains from meat Fridays, and obeys the Ten Commandments. But I didn’t fully understand my responsibilities in observing the Two Commandments of the New Testament, love of God and love of neighbor, which some politically incorrect people today call “social justice.” In 1970, we didn’t know if we used that term, someone on the Fox channel would call us communists or Nazis.
My conversion was gradual. I began to see the wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement, “Injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere.” I had allowed my country to kill innocent people in Vietnam and Cambodia, and now government troops were killing innocent people in my own country. The domino theory applied less to Vietnam than to our own governments.
I gradually began to realize that if war enables American troops to kill unarmed American kids, then there’s something radically wrong with that war. I began to question not only that war but lots of others we got into, not to protect our country from invaders, but to appease some special interests.
If wars enable the government to kill people for not being able to prove they didn’t do something wrong, then we have to stop the government from using wars to kill people for exercising their first amendment rights. Today, 40 years later, I have yet to understand why the First Amendment applies to the right of corporations to buy as many politicians as they want but does not apply to real, living and breathing people opposing a war.
Today I realize that my religion and my citizenship require me to do all I can to oppose frivolous wars, both waged and financed by my taxes. I refuse to be an accessory to mass homicide simply by paying taxes. The threat of being castigated for political incorrectness must not deter me from exercising my rights and responsibilities as a citizen of the United States of America.
I’m glad no government has killed any student for opposing a war in the past 40 years. I hope we learn the lesson of Kent State once and for all. That’s why I support an independent commission on truth and reconciliation to get to the bottom of the causes of those crimes. Maybe if we find exactly who’s responsible for ordering the shootings and why that person or those persons issued such an order, maybe we can devise as foolproof a system as possible to ensure no such crimes ever happen in our country in the future.
All Americans deserve to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That’s especially true for the wounded students and the surviving families of the four homicide victims.